Divided minds, defective leadership

American business spends around $14 billion a year on leadership development, evidently without much return.

While many providers are happy to take the money and run, other more sincere practitioners labour earnestly to try and explain the persistence of the leadership crisis in the face of all the expensive efforts to overcome it – again, without much success.

The irony is that everybody knows what it takes to be an effective leader.  All the experts prescribe much the same formula: inspirational vision, informed and insightful strategy, a creative team culture that equips, empowers, and encourages all to grow and be the best they can be, a climate of justice in which responsibilities are carried, rights are respected, and rewards are reaped, and a commitment to individual and corporate integrity.

The mystery is why so few people apply these straightforward guidelines.  The short answer is that they continually demand rigorous thought and heroic perseverance.  They come under intense pressure from politics and personal agendas driven by leaders and followers alike.  And this is where the great obstacle to leadership development in our world arises.

This great obstacle, ironically, is the defining reality of our everyday lives, omnipresent in our homes, workplaces, and communities, inexorably influencing everything we say and do, and yet almost completely opaque to us, and all but ignored by even the more introspective minds among us.

It is our worldview, the intellectual framework that accommodates all our cultural predispositions, our beliefs, aspirations, and attitudes.  It is the starting point for whatever thinking we may do, shaping what we think, and how we think.

Today, the inner contradictions of an unexamined worldview are plain to see.  One is the prevailing tension between Modernism, the belief that science and reason can build an omniscient, transcultural utopia, and Postmodernism, the cynical repudiation of Modernism following the barbarities of the 20th century.

Another is the moral confusion that arises from the irreconcilable ideas of still influential thinkers like Hume, Kant, Mill, Marx, and Nietzsche.  A third is the inability to articulate urgently needed remedies for free-market capitalism, maligned in many quarters, yet still the most successful wealth creating system in history.

The list is endless – consider only the failure of vastly increased spending to improve educational outcomes, the burgeoning mental health epidemic, the disillusionment with democratic politics, the anarchic abuse of personal freedom, the breakdown of relationships, and alarming rates of disengagement in the workplace.

All these contradictions are evidence of a conflicted worldview that has grown out of a clash between two older worldviews, one classical, and the other modern.  The classical or teleological worldview saw the world as having meaning and purpose, with everything connected in some way or other.  It regarded the natures of things as definable and essential aspects of reality, with all things directed towards their natural fulfillment.

This worldview takes the affinity between the rational order of the cosmos and the rational minds of human beings as evidence that we can know the truth and the natural good of all things.

The modern or mechanistic worldview, on the other hand, denies meaning and purpose in the world, insisting that we create our own.  It denies that things have specific natures, and embraces the idea that we can reshape reality according to our own desires.  It rejects the idea of metaphysical truth and universal ethical norms, and sees the individual as essentially alone and subject only to his or her own will.  Its highest values are personal choice, no matter how selfish, and tolerance, even where behavior produces suffering.

Note that science cannot prove the validity of these worldviews, though their credibility suffers if they are unable to accommodate scientific fact.  They are metaphysical frameworks that interpret and assimilate scientific knowledge according to their own understanding of reality.

Humans invented science using metaphysical reasoning; metaphysics precedes science and charts its direction.  The teleological worldview provided the inspiration and the foundations of modern science, while the mechanistic worldview defined modern scientific method.

The practical success of modern scientific method has given rise to the confused belief that the modern worldview is scientific.  However, using mathematics to describe the purely quantitative aspects of matter is by definition an abstraction and not an overall view of reality.  To say science alone can give us knowledge is not a scientific claim, but a metaphysical one.  Science presupposes the basic principles of metaphysics because they are about what must be true for there to be a rational cosmos in which science can be done.

For reasons that need not detain us here, state schooling, academia, and the media have long promoted the mechanistic worldview, fuelling the increasing selfishness, materialism, promiscuity, hedonism, cynicism, and disillusionment in homes, workplaces, and communities.  If there is no meaning and purpose in the world, no objective morality, and relationships are governed by the will of the individual, obviously society will fall apart.

In the secret recesses of their hearts, most people still cling to the common sense principles of the classical worldview – meaning, purpose, connectedness, and objective moral norms – but they are silenced by political correctness and their own inability to provide a reasoned argument against the utterly fraudulent charge of being unscientific.

They know that government bailouts for banks whose cupidity caused the financial crisis is rank corruption; they know the sexual objectification of women violates their dignity and perverts relationships; they know that barbaric violence by young people is evidence of societal failure; they know that bullying, shirking, and marginalization in the workplace harm the people and the business.  And they know that things like this are commonplace.

Of course, both of these worldviews are susceptible to ideological distortion, which goes a long way in explaining the callous antisocial behavior so rampant today.  But only one gives us solid rational grounds on which to understand the social dysfunction that has become endemic.  Only one stands on the principle that we can know the Good and should seek and promote it.  Only one provides a rational foundation for our belief in human rights.  The other, by contrast, sponsors divided minds and defective leadership.

The implications for leadership are plain.  Fortunately, awareness of the problem is growing in intellectual circles.  Many philosophers and scientists now look to the teleological worldview for answers, without weakening their commitment to modern scientific method in any way.  Though it will be a long time before their work permeates the world of policy-makers, at least leaders can confidently build their own work on the following human principles.

There is meaning and purpose in the world.  There is a real connection between things.  The world is rational and knowable by human minds, and we can know the natures of things, and also what is good for them.  And all human beings can discuss what is good for all of us, and for our world, across this intellectual bridge.  To deny it is to deny our humanity.

Note: The theme of this article obviously demands much greater detail and development than can be contained within the necessarily tight editorial parameters.  However, the message is urgent, and I felt compelled to at least fire this opening salvo.  For those who are interested, I consulted these books:

The Crisis of the European Mind – Paul Hazard

The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science – E A Burtt

The Unintended Reformation – Brad Gregory

The Origins of Modern Science – Herbert Butterfield

Sources of the Self – Charles Taylor

Passage to Modernity – Louis Dupre

The Theological Origins of Modernity – Michael Allen Gillespie

Locke – Edward Feser

The Wisdom of the World – Remi Brague


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